Olympic Dreams on the Line: How American Airlines Risked a Marathon Runner’s Journey

Ashlee Powers was flying American Airlines to the US Olympic Marathon Trials. She has an American Airlines credit card so that she can have priority boarding, which should mean better access to overhead bin space.

However, while United and Delta also often make customers gate check their bags even when there’s still bin space available, American Airlines seems to do this the most. Despite plenty of space available still for bags on board, including directly above her seat, Ms. Powers was stressed on the way to the most important moment of her life, having been made to give up her Olympic running gear.

lady at the gate decided to have a power trip as I cried telling her I cannot separate from my carry on. It has prototype shoes and all my race equipment. I told her I was priority and I guarantee there is overhead space — I was right. I should be mentally resting

She continued, “instead, I am worried about my racing gear. worried that they now put my race in jeopardy all because their gate attendant wanted to flex on a crying girl.”

Airlines make passengers gate check their carry on bags, even when there’s still space available, just in case they run out of space. They don’t want to wait until they hear from cabin crew that bins are full. There might still be passengers waiting on the jet bridge to board the plane, with more carry on bags. And dealing with checking these at the last minute can delay the aircraft pushing back – as passengers come forward, bags get tagged, and crew remove them to the cargo hold.

Nonetheless, the dial is clearly set too far in the direction of making passengers give up their bags. And few things make them fume like having their belongings taken away only to see row after row of empty bins once they’re on the aircraft. (I once just ignored a United gate agent and brought my bag on board anyway).)

Airlines need to cut this out and do better, actually allowing passengers – especially profitable ‘priority’ credit card customers! – to use the space that’s available.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “Wannabe D list celebrity forced to gate check a bag, per policy, after xx boardings so 171 other passengers aren’t delayed. Bag arrives at intended destination as promised. Woman complains about self inflicted mental anguish when nothing went wrong”

    Figured I’d summarize it. I enjoy your stories like this whether they’re about aa, Delta, or United but some customers are a bit dramatic over nothing. Sure, it’s a little clickbait but they are some fun light reading where even Timmy and I can agree.

  2. When you realize that middle and upper management’s bonus compensation is tied to closing the door 5 minutes early, then you will know why gate agents are under such pressure. Gate agents would rather put up with your complaining than their manager’s wrath. Remember, Vasu said the schedule is the product.

  3. So , wear the special shoes and race equipment on the flight ? Everyone knows the aircraft are over crowded with too many passengers with too big carry-on bags , no ?.

  4. So 189 people are inconvenienced because airlines are shit at building in an extra 5 minutes to their schedule.

    Yes, it IS an inconvenience for some regardless of what some think.

    It’s not a matter of leaving days early. But I guess it’s better the PAYING passenger be incontinenced rather than the airline.

    THIS crap is why I’ve quit flying AA

  5. What is not explained is how much of a choice she had in flying American Airlines. She should have gone elsewhere if she could have. That being said, she still had a personal item she could take. She needs to pack her proper sized personal item with things that are not replaceable such as the prototype shoes. Then as a strategy, she should pack a carry-on that could be gate checked if required along with a checked bag with identical needed equipment along with shipping identical items in a package to her hotel in Orlando. Then she could have relaxed on her flight because at least one of the methods would be almost certain to work. She could have even worn an extra set of race shorts and top under her flying clothes and put socks in a zippered pocket of a worn jacket.

  6. @jns … Yes to your suggestion : a small Permitted bag with her most important items : special shoes , socks , uniform , etc .

  7. If you want to avoid these issues stay away from ULCCs such as Spirit, Frontier and American. That said I saw a new one in ATL a couple of weeks ago. An elderly lady was told she had to check her carryon. She said she had medication and the GA told her to remove it. Lady started unpacking the entire carryon right in front of the boarding area. It was full of stuff. The GA kept asking her to hurry up and she kept moving slowly. After about 5 minutes they told her not to worry about it. It was hilarious. Not sure if it was intentional or not but it worked.

  8. Another egotistical athlete who thinks she is entitled to privileged status. If you want first class service buy a ticket.

  9. I agree with the gate agent…I was one for 31 years….That said, I am not a fan of American Airlines

  10. It’s so interesting to read the comments from what I can only assume are AA employees who regularly crap on customers in this and other online forums. No wonder the airline industry in general is one of the worst offenders in the race to the bottom of customer service. Yet, these same employees keep demanding more respect. You get what you earn, honey.

  11. Alexander W

    I AM a FC paying customer who AA has DEMANDED I gate check my carryon more than 1 occasion.

    They start the must gate check before ghe 1st passenger has boarded.

    Now I don’t fly them anymore.

  12. This looks like a CRJ. If she had a roller bag it doesn’t matter when she boarded, they make you gate check it. United does the same thing. They don’t want people trying to cram their oversized carry ones into the tiny bins. If her gear was that important she should have taken it out and carried it on with her.

  13. I noticed at IAD (United) lately there are signs with photos posted in the end of the jetway, facing the aircraft door and presumably the flight attendants, with a photo of a computer generated bag tag and a warning to absolutely NOT remove those tags.

  14. I should add on a Delta flight back around the holidays, someone boarding was told to check their bag. It was tagged. The passenger I guess pulled off the tag and took the bag onto the plane. The agent came on and asked why her bag wasn’t in the jetway. The flight attendant was pointing out a nearby completely empty overhead bin (last passenger on) and the agent pitched a fit and demanded either she give up the bag or get off the plane. (at DCA for reference)

  15. The bag beg and bag grab again. Gate checked bags are rarely lost, but it is super annoying to have to line up and waste several minutes waiting to get it when there was more than enough space for a bag that would easily fit. There will 99.99% of the time be enough bin space for someone with priority boarding who arrives to the gate on time to board when called.

  16. Re carryons on AA: Will be flying on an AA mileage ticket and have no credit card or status with AA. I do have Ruby Status with One World thru Alaska Airlines. Is there any way to get a better boarding position on AA so as to, perhaps, be able to get overhead bin space?

  17. So what happened? Tell us the rest of the story. Did Ashlee’s Olympic gear arrive with her? Was she able to claim it in time to use it? Did she qualify for the Olympics? Was does AA have to say about this incident? Is AA an Olympic sponsor?

  18. @Michael Jones, a quick internet search will tell you that the US Olympic Marathon Trials are in Orlando, Florida on February 3, 2024.

  19. If shoes were that important she could have easily stuffed them in the personal item bag.

    That said I largely ignore the LHR dolts, LH frauliens and all other overzealous GAs who ask me to gate check my carryons. Just step aside, pretend to comply and then roll back onto the plane as they turn to deal with other passengers.

    The only planes I see run out of space are WN 737s where ironically checked bags are free.

  20. Geez. Nobody here seems to get the point of the article, or the context.
    She has priority boarding, which unless everyone else has priority boarding, she will almost certainly be in the first half of all people on board. There is always space for bags in the first half. It doesn’t help when people don’t tilt their bags upright in bins that can take that, which eliminates some space.
    Second, she can’t just “put the stuff on her”. Once she wears the shoes, they become more worn the more she walks/runs. I can assure you that any professional runner knows what a worn shoe compared to new shoe feels like. Same with stuffing them in another bag. It breaks down the shoe making it worse for her to run in.
    Third, just because most of the time gate checked bags arrive at their destination, that isn’t all. Things can go wrong, and athletes especially try to minimize that when flying.
    Fourth, she probably can’t just leave a week early. Imagine an NBA player leaving for an away game a week early, in this situation taking commercial instead of private, missing 3 or 4 home games. Totally unreasonable.

  21. Congratulations Ashlee on your time of 2:34 for a marathon! Heck, probably none of the negative folks commenting can probably say that they’ve ran under 6 minutes each mile for 26 miles!!! God bless you 🙂
    Shame on AA for not accommodating an athlete after she mentioned her upcoming OLYMPIC RACE…
    Gift her a free plane ticket AA.

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